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How To Demonstrate Electrostatic Charge

How To Demonstrate Electrostatic Charge

“Making the invisible, visible”

In this video, Paul Cook explores and showcases a demonstration of the dynamic effects of static electricity through the interaction of charged objects.

At the core of our demonstration lies the Lascells E-field detector, which can detect very small charges and their polarity, as well as charge at a distance.

By observing the changes in the E-field detector’s indications, we will look at the fundamental principles governing the behaviour of charged materials. Through the deliberate manipulation of common objects such as balloons, cloths, polycarbonate rods, Sellotape reels, and plastic book covering, we will elucidate the dynamic relationship between electric charges and their immediate surroundings.

You will need:

  • Lascells E-Field detector
  • Balloon
  • Cloths and Polycarbonate rods
  • Sellotape and holder
  • Plastic book covering (50 Micron Polypropylene)


  1. Prepare the Balloon: Inflate the balloon and then deflate it several times to stretch it out a bit. This will make it easier to create static electricity.
  2. Begin by attaching the earth connection cable to the E-field detector. This connection ensures that the detector is grounded, providing a reference point for measurements.
  3. Introduce the concept of the E-field detector as an indicator of charge, emphasising its ability to make invisible electric fields visible.
  4. Charge the Balloon: Rub the balloon against the duster vigorously for about 20-30 seconds. This action transfers electrons from the duster to the balloon, giving the balloon a negative charge.
  5. Take the balloon and rub it against a surface to build up static electricity. Explain that the balloon becomes negatively charged.
  6. Observe the blue LED on the E-field detector, signifying the negative charge. Show the indicator moving up and down as the balloon is brought closer to and moved away from the detector.
  7. Next, demonstrate the charging process using cloths and polycarbonate rods. Rub the polycarbonate rod with the cloth to build up a charge.
  8. Similar to the balloon demonstration, show the E-field detector’s response to the charged polycarbonate rod, with the indicator displaying corresponding movements as the rod is brought closer to and moved away from the detector.
  9. Pull a piece of Sellotape to create a positive charge and discuss how this generates a red LED response on the E-field detector.
  10. Explain that the Sellotape reel now has a negative charge due to the positively charged pulled tape.
  11. To demonstrate charge neutralisation, put the Sellotape back on the reel and observe the E-field detector’s response returning to a neutral state.
  12. Use the roll of plastic book covering (50 Micron Polypropylene) to demonstrate the same principles of charge and neutralisation as with the Sellotape reel.
  13. Encourage questions and discussion to reinforce the understanding of electrostatic charge and the role of the E-field detector in visualising these concepts.

All health and safety measures are the responsibility of the teacher doing the demonstration. A thorough risk assessment should be carried out and guidance procedures followed. It is suggested that you practice before demonstration in front of a class.

Additional Experiments include:

  • Polarisation: Illustrate how an electric field can induce polarisation in neutral objects. Use the E-field detector to show the change in the electric field as the neutral object is exposed to a charged object.
  • Electroscope Demonstrations: Use the E-field detector in conjunction with an electroscope to show the transfer of charge between objects. Charge the electroscope using various materials, and then use the E-field detector to measure the electric field around the electroscope before and after charging.
  • Static Electricity and Safety: Discuss the dangers of static electricity and its relevance in real-life situations, such as handling flammable materials. Use the E-field detector to showcase the intensity of the electric fields that can build up on surfaces.
  • Lightning and Thunder: Discuss the phenomenon of lightning and thunder and how they relate to the build-up of static charges in clouds. Use the E-field detector to explain the concept of electric fields in the atmosphere and their role in lightning formation.
  • Interactive Demonstrations: Allow students to use the E-field detector themselves, encouraging them to experiment with different charged objects and observe the corresponding changes in the electric field.

By incorporating the E-field detector into these demonstrations, students can visually and practically understand concepts related to electrostatic charge and its behaviour. This hands-on approach can enhance their understanding and appreciation of these fundamental principles in physics.

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